The US Foodservice facility would be located east of Buda in the Sunfield MUD. File photo.
By SEAN BATURA
BUDA – Area Buda residents opposing last month’s land use change approved by the Buda City Council threw down the gauntlet Wednesday morning, submitting a petition for a referendum at around 11 a.m. at City Hall.
The city’s attorney said earlier this month that a city council-approved land use change is not subject to a referendum. But opponents of a land use change that would allow US Foodservice to locate on the city’s eastern fringe were unmoved.
“BudaFirst.Org is very optimistic that the City will allow the referendum to be filed,” said BudaFirst.org representative Laura Francis in a recent press release. BudaFirst.org, which includes former Buda mayor Jim Hollis and other former city officials, spearheaded the effort to nullify the change in the land use plan.
Buda City Secretary Toni Milam said she will process the petition within the time frame mandated by the city’s charter — 30 business days. Milam said Buda City Attorney Susan Rocha advised that the petition be processed normally. Rocha was not immediately available for comment.
Stahl Urban of BudaFirst.org said almost 800 Buda residents signed the petition, compared to 517 ballots cast by Buda residents in the last general election. BudaFirst.org needed 670 signatures to submit a petition. Urban said more than 1,000 signatures were originally gathered, but many belonged to Hays County residents living outside Buda. Urban said the group is still collecting signatures.
Buda councilmembers voted 5-2 on July 2 to amend the city’s land use plan so it could include the light industrial designation for 95 acres within the Sunfield Municipal Utility District (MUD), located in Buda’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. Sunfield MUD was created to support a 2,700-acre master-planned community including 348 single-family lots, 180 multi-family units and approximately 63 acres of commercial land.
Adding the light industrial designation to 95 acres within the MUD partially paves the way for the construction of a $50 million, 500,000-square-foot US Foodservice regional headquarters and distribution center near the intersection of Turnersville Road and CR 118. US Foodservice said the facility should generate $2.7 million annually in property tax revenue for the county, the Hays CISD and other entities.
“Buda took a bullet for the county years ago,” said Hays City resident and former Buda Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commissioner Carl Urban at the July 21 Hays County Commissioners Court meeting. “We have (Texas) Lehigh (Cement Company) down there. Decades of dust, trucks, health issues, traffic safety issues, congestion, road repair, have taught us one thing. If we’re going to take a bullet for the county again, let’s not take it in a vital organ. That was our one shot at a commercial district.”
BudaFirst.org members and others say placing the facility at the proposed location would deprive the city of sales tax revenue and may cause more traffic congestion, air pollution and water waste than a commercial land use for the area.
“It was going to be our commercial district,” said Urban, speaking of the efforts nine years ago leading up to the creation of the Buda’s Comprehensive Plan and Unified Development Code. “With that in mind, the MUD signed on … The MUD, interestingly enough, in the largest housing boom in the State of Texas — and certainly Central Texas and the U.S. — built not one house on 2,700 acres. But they changed management, and now in order to get something going, they want to change this into an industrial area. The problem with this is we have an industrial area that we will accept this in. It will have a dedicated route to (IH)-35. They’re proposing to put all industrial traffic through our only two accesses off (IH)-35. And that will pretty much decimate any hopes for a balanced economy in our town.”
US Foodservice estimates the proposed facility would increase vehicle traffic by 496 vehicles per day at full build-out in 10 years.
“There was no site (then designated industrial) that worked, for several reasons,” said US Foodservice representative Howard Falkenberg. “Either multifamily residential had been constructed near a feasible site — US Foodservice has a corporate policy against locating its facilities near residential — or the site wasn’t big enough, or it had drainage problems in it, or it didn’t allow for adequate access in and out of the site via the roads — there were turn dimensions that weren’t sufficient. We’ve examined all the sites in the so-called Buda Industrial Area, and there’s none that works, and this site does work, and it provides easy access to (IH)-35, which is really important, with minimal impact on any local traffic.”
Earlier this year, the Buda Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) recommended the city council grant Sunfield MUD’s request for a land use change. Rahm McDaniel, now a resident of Austin, was then chairman of the Buda P&Z until he left in May.
“I think that the traffic concern, specifically, about the land plan change involved here, is very overstated,” said McDaniel, who voted for the land use change. “The typical traffic pattern of the retail development versus light industrial is that retail is much, much more traffic intensive than a light industrial land use.”
US Foodservice has not yet bought the 40 acres on which it plans to build the facility. Falkenberg said a provision of the purchase agreement between US Foodservice and the current landowner — 2428 Partners LP — requires US Foodservice to secure Hays County’s support for road improvements to Turnersville Road and CR 118 before the land deal can be closed. The roads must be improved to withstand the heavy truck activity associated with the facility.
“The needs are quite a bit more than what we would normally see rebuilding a county road … so, it’s quite a bit more expensive,” Hays County Engineer Jerry Borcherding said at the July 21 Hays County Commissioners Court meeting.
The road improvements are expected to cost $1.75 million.
Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) quickly added that the county would save money in the long run on long-term maintenance. Borcherding agreed.
“It does not rank in the county priorities, in the Precinct 2 priorities anywhere near the top of what would be scheduled for this year or next year for any kind of major reconstruction,” Barton said during the July 21 meeting. “On the other hand … we anticipate that this MUD and the surrounding area will grow … substantially.”
US Foodservice has proposed that the county set up a tax increment finance (TIF) zone around the proposed facility for 15 years to finance the road improvements. US Foodservice has offered to pick up the difference if ad valorem taxes collected within the TIF fail to pay off debt incurred for road improvements. Barton said the TIF would probably pay off the debt in 10 to 12 years.
If Buda were to incorporate the land comprising the Sunfield MUD, maintenance on the roads would become the city’s responsibility.
“The roads in the MUD are likely to stay ours for the foreseeable future,” said Barton. “The MUD agreement lays out some land use guidelines … because of the debt service in that MUD, my understanding is that the agreement with the city is that the MUD itself will not be annexed into the city (until) … 2037.”
Commissioners probably will decide at the court’s August 4 meeting whether to re-prioritize Turnersville Road and CR 118 improvements.
“The job numbers are good, the average and even median wage is extraordinarily good for Hays County,” Barton said. “So there’s a lot of incentive for us to move forward. We recognize there’s some tough zoning issues in Buda … that’s created some internal dispute and controversy. But from a county commissioner’s perspective, that’s really for Buda to decide.”
Barton said commissioners ought to heed the will of legal representatives more than individual citizens, though he added that if the city changes course and allows a referendum, and Buda residents vote to overturn the land use change, he will support their decision.
“We have one opinion from one attorney from the city,” said Former Buda Economic Development Corporation member David Patterson. “We have two excellent attorneys whose wheelhouse is ballot initiative work, who have given us opinions, that (say) ‘You have every right to put this as a ballot initiative.’”